Why corporate water management needs to change

It’s safe to say I know a few things about water. I’m in my third decade working at one of the world’s leading industrial water solutions companies. I’ve provided counsel to some of the biggest water users on the planet and have led corporate initiatives to reduce our own water consumption. But I’m starting to realize that I haven’t been thinking broadly enough.

For most of my career, I’ve helped companies reduce water use and improve water quality. The business drivers have been what you would expect: achieving regulatory compliance, increasing efficiency and reducing costs. Water management strictly has been a “within the fences” concern.

And I’ve seen dramatic results within those fences. Many of our customers have saved millions of gallons of water through enhanced monitoring, efficiency, recycling and reuse. Water savings of that magnitude can equate to significant cost savings, and we’ve been successful in measuring and communicating that return on investment to grow our business.

But I am realizing that even with all the progress that’s been made, it’s not enough. Water scarcity is increasing on every continent. Around the world, demand for fresh water is exceeding population growth by a factor of two. Approximately 1.2 billion people already live in areas of water scarcity, and that number could grow to two-thirds of the world’s population as early as 2025.

The Carbon Disclosure Project’s Global Water Report 2012 stated that “business as usual” water management practices will put at risk 45 percent of the projected global GDP in 2050, which is about 1.5 times the size of our current global economy. The World Economic Forum’s Global Risk Report 2013 placed water scarcity among the top four global risks, in terms of likelihood and greatest impact – ranking ahead of issues such as food shortages, terrorism and climate change. And water scarcity is already constraining the growth plans of many companies that desire to expand in emerging markets.

Image of water droplet from Mariscina Vescio via Flickr.

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